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Thread: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

  1. #1
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    In the Barrio, In La Puente,Ca.

    The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    A Few Punches More - The Fairground Boxing Shows
    The fairground boxing booth for over two hundred years was a cradle for many of the great British boxing hopes. During its illustrious history fighters such as Jem Mace, Kid Furness, Jimmy Wilde and Tommy Farr all fought, exhibited on or ran boxing shows. Indeed the greatest Champion of them all Muhammad Ali in 1977 displayed his skills for charity on the front of Ron Taylor's Boxing Emporium. In their heyday each region of the country would have three or four main booths travelling the fairground circuit with the boxers fighting for Championships at both a regional and national level. In Lancashire, showmen such as the Hughes family, Len Johnson, and perhaps the greatest of them all Harry Kid Furness became renowned for the quality of their fighters and Champions who had started their career on them. In the West Country Jack and Alice Gratton travelled Gratton's boxing show and their son "One Round Gratton" was a legend from Poole to Penzance because he always knocked out his opponents in the first round. Taylor's Boxing Emporium under the ownership of the late Ronnie Taylor travelled Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom for well over a century with the Hickman family were dominant in the Midlands. The list is endless and A Fair Fight: An Illustrated Review of Boxing on British Fairgrounds contains interviews with many of the leading proprietors and overviews of some of the champions of the booths.

    Billy Wood's Show, Goose Fair, 1959.

    Pat McKeowen's Show, Goose Fair, 1961.
    The fairground boxing booth with its brightly coloured frontage displaying the names and faces of boxing's heritage is now a fading memory on the fair and has gone the way of other side-shows. Boxing shows flourished on the fairground from the Restoration onwards. Indeed Hogarth's famous picture of Southwark Fair demonstrates how long boxing booths have been on show on the fair. Boxing historians like many others working in the area of sporting history and popular entertainment tend to overlook the importance of such shows. Unlike the recent promoters who dominate the fighting game, Ron Taylor interviewed in 1999 like many of the boxing booth showmen could trace his heritage in the noble art to the mid nineteenth century:

    "My great granddad was a mountain fighter, and fought when it was illegal in the days of bare knuckle fighting. My dad used to tell me all about this and this is what his dad told him. They used to stick four sticks in the ground, put a rope around and then they had backers or challengers and the nobility would back them and most of their payments would be the nobbings. The nobbings are when they used to go round with the hat, because they used to fight mostly on grass so they couldn't chuck money in the ring, and that was the bare knuckle days. So if they'd put up a good fight, they used to have the nobbings."

    After the introduction of the Marquis of Queensberry rules in 1867, the sport gradually changed and eventually ended the old days of bareknuckle pugilism. According to Ron Taylor this also had an effect on the fairground shows and eventually led his family into purchasing their first show:

    "When they bought out the Queensberry rules, the Marquis of Queensberry rules where they wore gloves and the legalised it my great grandfather could see that there was potential in it so he opened a booth on the fairgrounds. So my great grandfather and some of his friend, they challenged anyone out of the crowd to fight and of course the public paid to go in and see them. Before this they didn't pay to see the fight and the boxers relied on nobbings and the showman got nothing because all the money was made on the betting. So that's how my family graduated then to the fairgrounds."

    Mickey Kiely's loads arrive at Nottingham, 1962.

    Boxers on a Variety Show, circa 1913.
    One of the greatest fighters in the days of the bare knuckle champion was Tom Hickman known as the Gaslight Champion. The origin of his nickname is obscure but the chronicler of Famous Fights claims he was so called because the speed of his punches caused the gaslights to go out. In his short but glittering career he was one of the greatest bare knuckle champions of his day until his death at the age of twenty seven when he was crushed to death by a carriage. Tom Hickman was involved in one of the most famous fights of the nineteenth century and the wagers laid on the outcome were reputedly in the region of a £150,000. In 1821 he fought Bill Neat on Hungerfound Downs, near Newbury in front of 25,000 spectators where after a long battle he was eventually urged by the thousands watching to admit defeat. From the 1830s onwards interest in prize fighting declined as a sport, but once again the fairground provided a ready home. After the death of Tom Hickman at the age of twenty seven the boxers who had known Tom collected money for his widow and children in order to purchase a boxing show and volunteered to fight on the booths free of charge for the first year to guarantee them a good start. From this tragic beginning the Hickman Boxing Show went from strength to strength and travelled until the mid twentieth century. This is one of the more romantic and tragic stories connected with an association between a family and a particular fairground show. The Hickman family entrance to the life of a travelling showman was owing to their ancestor Tom Hickman, the Gaslight Man. His grandson Charlie Hickman first travelled penalty shoots, and after running a variety of shows including "Teeny Tiny Tony the World's Smallest Pony," he travelled his boxing booth with Pat Collin's run of fairs in the Midlands from the 1920s onwards. Many famous boxers were associated with the family, not least Charlie Hickman, great grandson of Tom the Gaslight Man who won the Lonsdale Championship at Crystal Palace in 1931, a feat his illustrious ancestor never achieved. However, the showman who really bridged the gap between the bareknuckle days and the introduction of the Queensbury rules was Jem Mace a man who many boxing historians see as the pioneer of the modern travelling boxing booth with its exhibitions fights, stage show and the introduction of inviting all challengers into the ring.

    Jem Mace worked as both a showman promoter and pugilist and became the bridge between the old style boxing arenas and boxing as part of the entertainment route. During his colourful and often controversial career, from 1858 onwards Jem fought for many unofficial title and championship battles and despite "retiring" in 1867 he still travelled to America in the 1870s and beat Tom Allen for the Championship of the World. He travelled with both Ginetts and Pablo Fanque's circuses and was a popular and charismatic figure. In the early 1900s, poverty and destitution caused by bad management and high living resulted in Jem Mace at the age of seventy-six yet again travelling the fairs, circuses and music halls. However, this time it was as a lecturer with Billy LeNeve's troupe of lady athletes and gentleman boxers where he played to packed houses. In a series of features on Jem Mace that appeared in the World's Fair in 1910, the reporter describes Mace's popular appeal:

    "Jem Mace was appearing with his troupe of lady athletes and gentleman boxers. It was here that the crowds were flocking to, irrespective of party politics. They did not want to be bothered with political speeches, all they wanted was to see and hear the unconquered champion of the world. Their sole ambition was to gaze upon the veteran of the pugilistic ring, so that every day, and at every performance throughout the week, the standing order at this world-famed establishment was either standing room only or house full."

    Jem Mace died not long after this appearance shortly after his eightieth birthday and the reporter recalls the ringing chorus that used to accompany Jem as he took the stage:

    Good old Jimmy, Brave old James,
    Take a list and run all down the pugilistic names,
    Search through Fistiana and see if you can trace
    A man with such a record as old Jem Mace.

    Kid Summers, no date.

    Hughes' Boxers, 1916.
    Another character associated with Jem Mace at the twilight of his career who went on to surpass Jem as a showman and proprietor but not perhaps as a fighter was Harry Kid Furness, who claims to have been taught by the master himself. During his illustrious career as a boxing booth proprietor, matchmaker, referee and promoter he was one of the leading figures in the world of boxing. Denis Fleming, in his book The Manchester Fighters wrote the following tribute to Harry Furness, the Mighty Atom:

    "Furness was irrepressible. Even in this age of hyperbole, he would have eaten any modern day promoter for breakfast. He retained astonishing self confidence throughout his career ... The little man is still remembered and for old-time fighters of the thirties his wheeling and dealing were an essential part of the golden tapestry of their days in the ring. Harry Kid Furness had three things going for him: his endless energy, his overall knowledge of the game and above all, his genuine love affair with the ring.."

    Harry Furness became involved in the boxing booths as a one time fighter who then went on to promote and manage boxers. His booth was often a means of spotting raw talent and then training and developing any potential champions. The shows he operated were only one aspect of his involvement in the fight game and a later article will cover in detail his career as a boxer, showman and promoter. In the case of Matt Moran and Len Johnson it was through fighting on the booths which eventually led to them ending up running their own show. Len Johnson's life as a fighter and showman has been excellently covered in Michael Herbert's Never Counted Out, The Story of Len Johnson Manchester's Black Boxing Hero and Communist, published in 1992 and includes never before published details of his family background and fight record. Len Johnson's father William came to England in 1897 and initially earned a living as a seaman. He then took up boxing and fought both in the ring and on the fairs. After his marriage to Margaret Maher, Billy worked with many famous showmen including Gal Hague, Harry Hughes and Jim Watson. Their four children included Len who claims he first went on the booth at the age of two where he was announced by his father as "Len Johnson the Youngest Boxer in the World." Both Len and his brother Albert became successful fighters often starring on the same bill but it was Len who would go on to scale even greater heights. Despite initial setbacks when he lost some of his early fights in 1922 at the Alhambra Hall in Manchester he then joined Bert Hughes who travelled a booth round the Manchester area with his brother Harry and Billy. According to extracts of Len's unfinished autobiography in Michael Herbert's account of his life, on joining the fair at Burnley Bert Hughes greeted him with the words:

    "Don't punch the locals too hard Len, or they'll never come near the show again! They're only novices."

    Stewart's Booth, 1950.

    Stewart's Booth, 1950.
    The Lonsdale belts were set up in 1909 and despite the tradition of black boxers on the fairgrounds and in the later half of the nineteenth century, the organisers operated a colour bar prevented Len Johnson fighting officially for the British Championship until the 1940s.. This was not lifted until 1948 when Dick Turpin, brother of Randall and another boxer who appeared on the booths, defeated Vince Hawkins to take the middleweight championship and became the first black champion to be recognised by the British Boxing Board of Control. Len Johnson had an illustrious career as a fighter and during his time beat Len Harvey who went on to beat Alex Ireland to take the British middleweight title and the World light heavyweight title. Between 1927 and 1928 Len Johnson was recognised as being one of the most talented boxers in his division in the world and the continuing refusal of the boxing authorities to allow him to fight for the Lonsdale belt caused anger and controversy especially in Manchester where Len was considered a local boy:

    "Johnson has won his way to the front of the middleweight division and yet is denied the opportunity of competing for the coveted Lonsdale Belt which would set the seal on his fame ... All of which strange in a country which has invariably bestowed honours on men irrespective of race and creed, the sole consideration being outstanding merit in the particular spheres of life in which they have distinguished themselves."

    Over the next few years Len became disillusioned with the authorities, after a series of fights including the second fight against Len Harvey which he lost on points, he retired from the ring in 1933. However, Len still had a home and a place in boxing through his fairground booth and from the late 1920s until the early years of the Second World War he travelled with his show throughout Lancashire and the North West and appeared at Nottingham Goose fair where he regularly put on fourteen shows a day.

    The world of Len Johnson's show and the later days of the booth in the 1950s have been revealed in great detail by Matt Moran in his in his autobiographical account of life on the boxing shows titled Shamrock Gardens: From Boxing Booth Fighter to Travelling Showman, published in 1988, and by Harry Legg, a former booth fighter who travelled with Esther and Sam McKeowen and published two accounts of his life A Penny a Punch, and the follow up A Few Punches More. The careers of the Matt Moran, the McKeowen family and other prominent boxing booth proprietors are covered in detail in A Fair Fight.

    The decline of the boxing shows on the fairground is linked to the decision by the Boxing Board of Control in 1947 to limit and partially restrict the use of licensed boxers in the booths despite the fact that Randall Turpin an ex-booth fighter with the Hickmans won the Middleweight Championship of the World in 1951 by beating Sugar Ray Robinson. In 1951 in discussion with the British Boxing Board of Control the Showmen's Guild published a series of conditions for the booth proprietors to adhere to. However, by the late 1950s the Board had ruled that no licensed fighters could fight competitive bouts in the ring other than exhibition rounds. One of the many misconceptions about the boxing shows and perhaps this was a factor in the Boxing Board of Control's restrictions on the fairground shows, is that they were often the unsavoury side of the fight game. The last refuge for "worn out pugs" with cauliflower ears and broken hands. However, Michael Herbert in his biography of Len Johnson writes gives greater credit to the fairground booth and writes:

    "A boxer had to be fit strong and healthy to make a living on the booth ... it offered an unrivalled opportunity to acquire good experience in a short space of time and to develop his skills."

    Furness' Show, 1947.

    Furness' Show, 1947.
    Although the restrictions placed by the Board of Control did not immediately affect the booth showmen, many of them agree that it was a element in the shortage of good fighters coming up onto the shows. A factor Esther McKeowen mentioned when interviewed in 1997:

    "It's an impossible task now, apart from the boys, the British Boxing Board of Boxing Control will not let you have licensed boxers, they said they didn't want them going on boxing booths apart from exhibitions. So it's no good, you don't want exhibitions when you want them to take on challengers so it was making it a hard thing. It's just an impossible thing to run in this day and age, years ago there was men around, and they just wanted to earn a few bob."

    Over the past two hundred years the boxing booth has been a home to future champions, past champion and eager young fighters determined to achieve the ultimate crown the Championship of the World. The recent debate regarding the British Boxing Board of Control and the licensing of women boxers has received a large amount of media coverage but women boxers were a feature on the fairground as far back as the 1880s when Polly Fairclough appeared at Burton Statute Fair as the Female Champion of the World. Showmen such as Professor Moore in 1910 and Charlie Hickman in the 1930s allowed their daughters to fight on the show and Ester McKeowen involvement over the century illustrates that ability not gender has always been the more important issue on the fairground.

    During its long illustrious involvement with the sport of boxing the fairground booth as seen many changes and its place in boxing's history should never be forgotten. In finishing this overview of boxing on the fairground I will conclude with the words of Len Johnson, perhaps one of the greatest fairground fighters of them all, who when interviewed in 1932 stated:

    "Anything that I have and anything that I am, I owe unconditionally to the booth. The booth with its work, with its careful living and above all its frame of mind ... I am here to meet all comers and all comers I must meet."

    Vanessa Toulmin's book 'A Fair Fight' can be purchased here.

  2. #2
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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    A friend of the family witnessed Randy Turpin fight in 'The Booths' at a fair somewhere near Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, UK.

    He states that he watched Turpin KO "two hulking farmboys, who were both built like brick outhouses!!" and "Turpin did almost as much damage with his head than his fists".

    It must have been a sight to see.

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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    my grandad Bert Gilroy boxed and travelled Scotland and neighboring N. England with John Stewart's Booth. There were a few Stewart brothers who basically split up parts of Britain, I can't think of their names at the moment...

    all British boxers boxed the Booths, how do you think they racked up so many fights, even 'sanctioned' Pro-bouts or bouts against other Pro's at a Booth would count on a lot of these guys records, look at Len Wickwar & Ginger Sadd and the like. Gilroy too is credited with 200+ fights and an additional 300 odd of your basic Booth fights against 'all-comers', Fair Ground patrons.

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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    Very interesting thread kikibalt - someone may be able to help me out here. I have an old pic from c1930 of a 'Percy Lennons Boxing Troupe' - seems to be some sort of fairground boxing booth show. If anyone has done any research into this fascinating area of the game - have you come across this particular one ?.....would be interested to know a bit about this pic.
    Cheers to all - Catsfoot.

  5. #5

    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows


  6. #6
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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    Here is a review of that book which I published in WAIL! when it came out:

    Book Review: A Fair Fight by Vanessa Toulmin (World's Fair Pub.:1999)
    Reviewed by Mike DeLisa


  7. #7
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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    Ah, hell I'll just reprint it here -- but you guys really have to explore all those back issues of WAIL!

    Book Review: A Fair Fight by Vanessa Toulmin (World's Fair Pub.:1999)
    Reviewed by Mike DeLisa

    Blessedly, boxing's allure derives from with its people not its statistics. And, every once in a while, a book comes along that reminds us of that fact, and which opens a window into the lives of the characters that make boxing enduringly fascinating.

    A Fair Fight by Vanessa Toulmin delivers us to the world of the boxing booths that peppered the English countryside for over 200 years. These booths traveled with fairs and circuses throughout England, and provided an entertainment staple.

    Modern boxing as we know it was birthed in England. Since a major venue for exhibiting entertainment was the fair (or carnival) it was inevitable that boxers, too, would display on the fairgrounds. Thus from the time of Figg in the 1700s, the boxing booth was a common and popular fixture. By the 1920s, traveling with a boxing booth was an accepted form of gaining experience and of staying in shape.

    The boxing both itself was a large tent with a false front painted with extravagant boxing scenes. Toulmin's book provides many rare photos of these fronts - from the extravagance of Ron Taylor's Excelsior Pavilion Boxing Academy to the forlorn façade of Matt Moran's Up-to-Date Boxing Show. Inside the booth, fighters would await challenges from the audience. If none volunteered, it was not uncommon for a "plant" in the audience to issue a challenge and climb into the ring. The fighters would also fight exhibitions and bouts with other fighters.

    So, for example, in 1910, you could attend a carnival in the English countryside. You would stroll along and visit the various side-shows with the every popular fat lady or view Teeny Tiny Tony, the World's Smallest Pony. You could then enter the boxing booth. After the barker made sure that the tent was packed and all had paid admission, you could climb into the ring against a scrawny teenager who weighed no more than 105 pounds. And then Jimmy Wilde would kick your ass! If that wasn't worth 6d admission, you could move onto another town and watch Bobby Dobbs beat up somebody else.

    Toulmin devotes a brief chapter to a few of the great fighters who worked the booths - Nat Langham, Tom Sayers, Jem Mace, Tommy Farr, Jimmy Wilde, Len Johnson, Freddie Mills, Benny Lynch, Randy Turpin, and many others, including the ubiquitous Muhammad Ali. She presents many stories that truly bring to life many names that too often are mere record-book entries. For example, she devotes a section to Joe Beckett, who had a long and overall successful ring career. Today, if Beckett is recalled at all it is for his two kayo losses to Georges Carpentier. Toulmin describes an elderly Beckett nearly 50 years later lamenting "I beat all the British heavyweights of my time . . but even 40 years after I retired the only talk of my defeats by Carpentier."

    The bulk of the book is a wonderful evocation of the life on the fairground in general and the boxing booth in particular. Using for the most part first-hand interviews with surviving booth owners, Toulmin presents the stories of eight families who owned boxing shows. Here we learn of such characters as The Mighty Atom Kid Furness, a disciple of Jem Mace, who not only ran one of the most successful shows but also promoted hundreds of official matches throughout England.

    Another Chapter is devoted to the Hickman family, who trace there lineage to Tom Hickman, the Gasman, whose 1821 fight with Bill Neat was immortalized by William Hazlitt in his essay "The Fight." We learn of the Gasman's tragic demise and how his widow was able to purchase a boxing booth by virtue of a benefit thrown by other fighters of the day. She also presents the story of 1930s British heavyweight and booth performer Charles Hickman Jr., who ran his own show and who died as tragically as The Gasman.

    We also get a glimpse into the fascinating career of Len Johnson, who by all accounts was a wonderful fighter and who ran his own show after retiring. Johnson, a black, beat such tough men as the inscrutable Leone Jacovacci (Jack Walker) and Len Harvey. Johnson, who was black, is recalled by virtually all of the surviving booth owners as a wonderful fighter and dedicated showman. His eye for talent led him to hire a young Benny Lynch for his booth. Johnson later became a communist and sought election in Manchester. For those of us who were weaned on The Ring and endless articles about Jack Dempsey, his story is worth further research. (But don't go to old issues of The Ring -- except for a line here and there his story is unreported.)

    Toulmin also devotes a chapter to "Lady Boxers" and their role in the development of the sport. Here we learn of Champion females from the 1700s, through vaudeville performances by such acts as Matchett and the Gordon Sisters, whom Thomas Edison filmed in 1901. At the Library of Congress I once reviewed a paper print of the Edison film cited by Toulmin. That film is available via the Internet. So go to http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mbrsmi/varsmp.1628 to see the Gordon Sisters Boxing.

    The book is heavily illustrated with photographs, handbills, and fight posters. (Indeed, overall the book is very well designed.) I highly recommend it to the boxing fan.

    Visit the publisher's website at http://www.worldsfair.co.uk/wf/pages/index.tpl

  8. #8
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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    And here is a review of the booth owner Len Johnson, referenced in the book:


  9. #9
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    Mar 2006

    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    And here is Len Johnson's record -- for some reason the link is broken:

    CBZ Black Dynamite
    Len Johnson

    BORN : Oct. 22 1902; Manchester, England
    DIED : Sept. 28 1974

    RACE : Black
    MANAGER : Bill Johnson

    __________________________________________________ ___


    Jerry Hogan Alhambra, Manchester KO 3
    Harry Johnson Stockport KO 2
    Young Marshall Alhambra, Manchester L 6
    Young Marshall Alhambra, Manchester L 6


    Jan 31 Eddie Pearson Manchester WRSF 2
    Feb 28 Mick Bradley Free Trade Hall, Manchester WRSF 5
    Mar 28 Nat Sweatenham Free Trade Hall, Manchester KO 2
    Apr 18 Billy Pritchard Free Trade Hall, Manchester L 15
    Sep 15 Mick Bradley Alhambra, Manchester W 15
    Oct 14 Kid Moose Southport W 10
    Oct 24 Billy Pritchard Free Trade Hall, Manchester L 15
    Nov 21 Pat McAllister Manchester W 15
    Dec 18 Horace Jackson Middlesbrough KO 5


    Jan 4 Martin Hansen Copenhagen, Denmark L 15
    Feb 9 Lonz Webster Manchester W 15
    Feb 26 Billy Pritchard Nottingham D 15
    Mar 12 Billy Pritchard Glasgow W 15
    Mar 26 Billy Pritchard Nottingham W 15
    Apr 15 Piet Hobin Brussels, Belgium L 15
    Apr 23 Billy Pritchard York D 15
    May 25 Lonz Webster Glasgow W 15
    June 9 Ned Dixon Rhondda, South Wales W 15
    June 30 Kid Moose Sunderland L 15
    July 6 Jimmy Cox Govan W 15
    Aug 4 Percy Calladine Sunderland KO 3
    Sep 1 Bobby Lees Glasgow W 15
    Sep 3 Pat McAllister Dublin D 15
    Oct 9 Ernie McCabe Manchester W 15
    Nov 2 Johnny Bee Glasgow W 15
    Nov 5 Lonz Webster East Kirkby W 15
    Nov 10 Tom Plant Sunderland WRET11
    Dec 17 Johnny Bee Blackfriars, London L 15
    Dec 22 Bill Bates Sunderland W 15
    Dec 28 Albert Brown Govan WRET 6


    Jan 7 Kid Moose Middlesbrough W 15
    Jan 12 Herman Van’t Hoff Blackfriars LRET 8
    Jan 14 Jim Slater Leicester W 15
    Jan 29 Billy Pritchard Manchester L 15
    Feb 7 Kid Moose Liverpool L 15
    Feb 11 Billy Farmer Nottingham L 15
    Feb 17 Jimmy McDonald Leeds WRET12
    Mar 3 Charlie Woodman Manchester WRSF 8
    Mar 20 Joe Bloomfield Premierland, London W 15
    Mar 30 Pat McAllister Leeds WRSF11
    Apr 24 Ernest Tyncke Premierland W 15
    May 11 Ted Coveney Leeds W 15
    June 12 Billy Mack Liverpool L 15
    June 26 Jack Phoenix Dublin W 15
    June 28 Herman Van’t Hoff Premierland L 15
    July 14 Johnny Brown Govan LRET 4
    Aug 7 Frankie Burns Premierland D 15
    Nov 1 Ted Coveney Sunderland W 15
    Nov 11 Tommy Moran Manchester KO 4
    Nov 15 Pat Logue Sunderland DQ 3
    Dec 2 Pat McAllister Sunderland WRSF 9
    Dec 22 Johnny Bee Sunderland W 15
    Dec 26 Billy Cook Leeds LDQ 7

    Jan 26 Ernie Milsom Bow, London WRET 5
    Feb 8 Charlie Ring Premierland W 15
    Feb 23 Roland Todd Belle Vue, Manchester W 20
    Apr 6 Billy Pritchard Belle Vue, Manchester KO 13
    Apr 12 Joe Bloomfield Premierland W 15
    Apr 24 Fred Davies Southampton D 15
    Apr 26 Albert Rogers Premierland KO 2
    May 14 Ernest Tyncke Premierland W 15
    June 15 Herman Van’t Hoff Blackfriars W 15
    July 23 Charlie Ring Premierland W 15
    Aug 31 Frank Briscot Blackfriars W 15
    Sep 25 Roland Todd Belle Vue, Manchester W 15
    Nov 9 Georges Rouquet Blackfriars W 15
    Nov 27 Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis Belle Vue, Manchester WRET 9
    Dec 7 Jack Hood Blackfriars L 20


    Feb 20 Harry Collins Sydney, Australia W 20
    Collins claimed the British Empire middleweight title, and this bout
    was billed as a title defense. Johnson’s victory was recognized in
    Australia but not by the NSC or any other authorities in Britain.
    Mar 6 Tiger Payne Sydney, Australia W 20
    Mar 20 Jim Williams Sydney, Australia L 20
    Mar 27 Jim Williams Sydney, Australia L 20
    Apr 3 Tiger Payne Sydney, Australia W 20
    Apr 17 Al Stewart Sydney, Australia KO 19
    British Empire title defense.
    May 8 Tommy Uren Sydney, Australia KO 11
    British Empire title defense.
    July 20 Frisco McGale Brisbane, Australia WRSF 9
    British Champion Tommy Milligan’s title defense against George
    West in London on July 12th 1926 was officially advertised by
    the NSC and other promoters as being for the vacant Empire title,
    after which Johnson’s title claim eventually lapsed.
    Sep 10 George West Manchester W 20
    Nov 1 George West Manchester W 20
    Nov 15 Maurice Prunier Blackfriars W 15
    Dec 6 Jack Etienne Blackfriars LDQ 5


    Jan 3 Len Harvey Blackfriars W 20
    Jan 31 George West Cardiff W 15
    May 22 Leone Jacovacci Milan, Italy L 12
    June 9 Ted Moore Olympia, London W 12
    July 25 Jack Elliot Blackfriars W 15
    Dec 19 Jack Etienne Blackfriars W 15


    Jan 1 Piat Brand Blackfriars WRET10
    Jan 23 Gypsy Daniels Blackfriars W 15
    Mar 1 Frank Fowler Leeds WRET 9
    Mar 10 George Hetherington Consett WRET 8
    Mar 19 Ted Moore Blackfriars W 15
    Oct 23 George Schladen Manchester WRET 5
    Nov 20 Leone Jacovacci Belle Vue, Manchester W 15
    Dec 31 Ignacio Ara Blackfriars W 15


    Jan 22 Jim Williams Belle Vue, Manchester W 15
    Apr 11 Gerrard Debarbieux Liverpool WRET 9
    June 3 Harry Crossley Leeds W 15
    June 21 Marcel Moret Clapton WRSF 4
    Oct 20 Emil Egryel West Bromwich WRSF 7
    Nov 5 Louis Weustrenrad Leicester KO 3
    Nov 26 Pierre Gandon Manchester W 15
    Dec 17 Michele Bonaglia Belle Vue, Manchester W 15


    June 12 Bob Carvill Liverpool W 15
    June 17 Leone Jacovacci Newcastle WRET 7
    Oct 13 Pierre Gandon Blackfriars W 15
    Oct 21 Giuseppe Malerba Manchester WRSF 7
    Nov 17 Harry Crossley Manchester D 15


    Apr 6 Jack Etienne Belle Vue, Manchester L 15
    Apr 20 Jack Etienne Belle Vue, Manchester W 15


    Jan 28 Adolf Potts Albert Hall, London W 8
    Mar 1 Steve McCall Edinburgh WRET 4
    Mar 14 Louis Weustenrad Leeds KO 3
    Apr 27 Rene Vermout Albert Hall WRET 1
    May 11 Len Harvey Albert Hall L 15
    Advertised as for the British Middleweight Championship by the

    promoter Jeff Dickson, but not recognised by the British Boxing Board

    of Control due to the colour bar. The BBB of C also forbade the

    Lonsdale Belt to be put at stake.
    Oct 31 Marcel Thil Paris, France LRET 8


    May 20 Kid Scott Sheffield L 12
    May 29 Kid Scott Albert Hall WRET 3
    June 26 Rene Vermout Albert Hall KO 1
    Aug 31 Jack London Liverpool Stadium W 12
    Sep 30 Eddie Pierce Blackfriars LRSF11
    Oct 12 Jim Winters Edinburgh L 12
    Announced retirement from boxing.

  10. #10
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    Mar 2006

    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    In Australia, jsut a little bigger than England, we had/have one left - The travelling boxing tent.

    They had them in big cities as recently as when I was a teenager.

    A very good friend of mine who is now training fighters and physical fitness on the Gold Coast was training pretty seriously as a boxer/kickboxer in the early 90's and he was just super fit.

    His coach told him they were taking a day off training and going to "the show" - Which is what aussie's call a state fair. Anyway, Mario arrives at the showground, met his coach and propmtly found himself taking his shirt off and fighting in the boxing tent.

    He was about a super middle and fit as a fiddle then, absolutely destrotyed those in the tents, mostly thanks to his conditioning and body punching. It was hilarious.

    It was made illegal in most cities in Australia in '71, but I live in the ACT where XXX, prostitution, decriminalised pot, fireworks and easy to get firearms licences sit alongside our nations government - Imagine Mexico only cleaner, colder and more boring.

    It took a bit longer for them to ban the boxing tents from our town, but there's been a report on the last one going around on current affairs shows as recently as last year.

    Dirt rings, massive drunk truckers VS fit as hell young Aboriginal dudes - Just hilarious watching them drop the tough guys in the audience with a belly shot after 15 wild swing and misses.

  11. #11
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    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    Also from WAIL (Sept, 2004).


    (October 22nd 1902- September 28th 1974)

    by Rob Howard

    "Born in Manchester, England, Len Johnson learned the noble art on the boxing booths of Bert Hughes and ‘Professor’ Bill Moore, and eventually became the owner of his own booth – travelling the roads and towns of England with fairgrounds. Johnson developed into a highly skilled boxer, with an educated left hand and a slippery defence that made him difficult to hit and left his features largely unmarked throughout his career.

    Managed by his father, Bill, Len embarked on a conventional boxing career in 1921 that saw him win more often than he lost, but seemed to be headed nowhere in particular. In the first three years, Johnson was regarded largely as a journeyman performer whose real interest lay in his itinerant life on the booths. Throughout his twelve-year ring career Johnson had a virtual ‘love affair’ with the open-air life of the travelling boxing booth.

    Len Johnson’s boxing career took a dramatic turn in early 1925 when he was matched with Roland Todd, the reigning British and former European middleweight champion, in a non-title fight. Johnson took this opportunity very seriously indeed, whilst Todd, somewhat jaded after returning from a campaign in America, was below his best form. The result was a conclusive 20 rounds points verdict for Johnson, and this had a considerable effect on re-aligning the Manchester man’s fistic aspirations. From this point onwards, Johnson steadily began to dominate the British middleweight division, with wins over Roland Todd in a rematch, former World Welterweight Champion Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (stopped in nine rounds), Len Harvey, Gipsy Daniels, George West, Ted Moore, Jack Etienne, Harry Crossley, Leon Jaccovacci, Michele Bonaglia, plus many other leading British and European middle and light heavyweights of the period.

    Unfortunately for Johnson, British boxing operated a rule known as the ‘colour bar’ in the 1920s (repealed in 1948) that prevented any coloured boxers from fighting for championships. This rule had tacit support from politicians, and had its origins in an irrational long-term fear felt by the ruling classes of insurrection amongst the black colonial inhabitants of what was then the British Empire. It was believed that black fighters defeating white fighters would undermine the Empire, and incite rebellion. The consequence of this for Johnson was that he could neither fight for championships nor persuade anyone with political influence to effect a change in the status quo. Johnson lobbied newspapers and politicians over a period of several years, only to meet with an unchanging negative response and indifference to his situation.

    Johnson spent the first half of 1926 in Australia, where he won the British Empire middleweight championship by defeating local hero Harry Collins. Johnson was popular and very successful in his six months Down Under, returning home to get married. On arrival in England, Johnson discovered that his Empire title – won fair and square against a formidable opponent – was not recognised by the National Sporting Club, who controlled British boxing at that time. In fact, the NSC had installed Scotland’s Tommy Milligan as British Empire champion – openly snubbing the man now generally regarded by boxing fans everywhere as Britain’s best middleweight, albeit unofficially. Johnson’s Empire title victory, and two successful defences – all in Australia – only entered the boxing record books many years later, due to the intransigence of officialdom.

    In 1930 Johnson visited America on three occasions looking for fights, on trips organised by New York promoter Jimmy Johnston, but proposed contests did not materialise. In the same year, Johnson became the proprietor of his own booth – realising a long-held ambition. From this point onwards, however, eyesight problems and the onset of rheumatism caused a steady decline in Johnson’s ring performances. In 1932 he lost a rematch with Len Harvey in a contest that promoter Jeff Dickson billed as being for the British middleweight championship, in defiance of the British Boxing Board of Control. The BBB of C (formed in 1929) had taken over control of British professional boxing from the NSC, but had retained the colour bar in its constitution. Later the same year, 1932, Johnson travelled to Paris where he was forced to retire after eight rounds against the rugged Marcel Thil, then fighting at peak form. By the end of 1933, Johnson had retired from boxing, concentrating thereafter on running his travelling booth.

    Shortly after war broke out in September 1939, Len Johnson sold his boxing booth and dedicated the next few years to the war effort by joining the Civil Defence. This marked the end of Johnson’s active involvement in boxing, although he did, in the 1950s, write a boxing column for the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker. After the war, he joined the Communist Party and also became active in trade union matters, causing himself to become a thorn in the side of officialdom. Although Johnson failed six times to become elected to Manchester City Council, he acted for many years as an unofficial representative of the city’s black community – personally intervening in disputes involving racism. Len Johnson is remembered by many today as a figure who spent a lifetime in a personal battle against injustice and racism.

    Anyone wanting to read about Len Johnson’s life and boxing career should read Never Counted Out, written by Michael Herbert (1992). Michael Herbert writes in detail about Johnson’s ring career and about the origins of the racism that was endemic in British boxing prior to the Second World War. Mr Herbert explores the flagrant injustices suffered by Johnson during his boxing life, and also examines his subsequent involvement with the Communist Party in the post-war years that was born out of his experiences. Never Counted Out (published by Dropped Aitches Press, ISBN number is 0-9519526-0-9) tells a story which present day generations may find hard to believe actually happened – probably the most shameful episode in British boxing’s long history. Essential reading for all boxing fans and social historians."

    Link to original story:


    I have read this book (and still have a copy), it is definitely worth tracking down. You can usually get a copy for around $15-$20.

  12. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Leicester, UK.

    Re: The British Fairground Boxing Shows

    1977 Jul 16 -Ali boxed at Ron Taylor's Boxing Booth in England

    Was this filmed?

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